Murderer's Creek: How It Got Its Name

It's not much of a creek these days, but it was the scene of at least one hanging back in the Gold Rush era.

If you were to stumble on to the trickle of water that meanders down Withers Avenue, you could simply step over it without so much as getting your feet wet. It seems pretty innocuous for a body of water with such a dramatic name.

But Murderer's Creek is a colorful, and sordid, part of Pleasant Hill's past. For it was here in 1849, according to the book Shadow on the Hills by William Mero, that surveyors came upon the body of a native American, hanging from a tree.

The reason? Apparently, in those days, Indian raids commonly targeted horses, and the penalty for getting caught for horse theft was hanging, since the courthouses and jails were yet to be built the area.

Today, Murderer's Creek is pretty well hidden among well-tended homes, parks, playgrounds and open space. But maybe, if you visit at night, you might be able to see some shadows in the moonlight that don't quite make sense. . .

Jack Weir February 27, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Having lived in Pleasant for many years, I have heard the story of the native American who was found hanging near the creek. What is not clear is why the creek was named "Murderer's Creek." Horse Thief Creek, Lynching Creek, Hangtree Creek, all might make sense. Who was/were the murderer(s)?
Jim Caroompas (Editor) February 27, 2013 at 11:04 PM
I'm assuming the murderers were the people who hanged the horse thief. One could argue one way or the other, I suppose. But my research has not uncovered any other incidence of murder there. I say that as though I work for CSI. My "research" was cursory, at best.
Terri Williamson February 28, 2013 at 02:40 AM
When I moved to PH there was an enormous Valley Oak on the south side of Oak Park Blvd. next to and west of the Murderer's creek crossing which was called 'Hangman's Tree'. It was supposedly this tree in which the surveyors found the hanging Indian -- not near Withers. It unfortunately died and fell a few years ago. I lived on Murderer's Creek, and it is a good sized year round creek through much of Pleasant Hill. It was evidently straightened parallel to Patterson (which didn't exist then) in the 30's to match property lines of irrigated farm land. You can still detect the old creek bed by looking for the huge Valley Oaks which used to line it. Terri Williamson


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